Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer has said that America may drop visa requirements for Czechs on November 17 this year. The date, he said, was symbolic, as it marks the anniversary of the overthrow of communism. Czechs, who previously had to apply for a visa for any length of trip to the States, will then become part of the American visa-waiver programme, and amongst the first to go through a new electronic vetting system.
In related news, Mr Langer said on Sunday that he cannot rule out Canada re-imposing visa restrictions for Czechs. Speaking on Czech Television, the interior minister said that if the number of Czech asylum seekers in Canada grew to more than 500, then Ottawa could ‘naturally’ reintroduce visa requirements for Czechs. Late last month PM Mirek Topolánek said that Czechs’ visa-free travel was ‘not jeopardised’ by the current number of Czech asylum seekers in Canada. It was recently revealed that 466 Czechs had sought asylum in Canada since visa restrictions were lifted last November. Speaking on Sunday, Mr Langer said that if Canada reintroduced visas for Czechs, then Prague would have to consider reintroducing visas for Canadians traveling to the Czech Republic.
In the course of the same interview, Interior Minister Ivan Langer said that he would rather the government falls at the next no-confidence vote than negotiate with rebel Civic Democrat MP Vlastimil Tlustý to gain his support. The opposition Social Democrats have said that they will call a confidence vote in the government after this autumn’s regional elections. The confidence vote comes in the wake of a blackmailing scandal – which erupted when Mr Tlustý posed for a set of seemingly compromising photos as part of a media sting. One Civic Democrat MP has resigned over his role in the scandal and party leader Mirek Topolánek has said that he will step down from his post if the party doesn’t clean up its act. On Sunday, Ivan Langer said it would be hypocritical of the Civic Democratic Party to condemn Mr Tlustý’s role in the affair and at the same time call upon him to support the party.
The presidents of four Central European states, including the Czech Republic, failed to agree upon a position on the recent Russian-Georgian conflict at a meeting in Slovakia this weekend. Czech President Václav Klaus said after the meeting of the so-called Visegrad four (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) that “we don’t have exactly the same opinions on the causes of the Georgian conflict, but we agree when discussing further steps”. Mr Klaus recently spoke out against Georgia’s role in the conflict, saying Tbilisi carried full responsibility for the war. Polish President Lech Kaczynski has previously condemned Russia’s role in the crisis. At Saturday’s meeting the four leaders did, however, agree that Kosovar independence had influenced last month’s war, and unanimously offered economic aid to the Caucuses region.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said on Sunday that he had received a death threat in the post. The PM told the newspaper Hospodářské noviny that he had handed the letter over to the police for examination. There is speculation within the Civic Democratic Party that the letter is linked to a recent blackmailing scandal which revealed bitter rifts within the centre-right party, of which Mr Topolánek is head. Earlier this year, six parliamentary deputies from across the political spectrum received bullets in the post in the run up to the presidential elections. No one has been charged in relation to this earlier incident.
The Czech Communist Party unveiled its list of candidates for the European Parliament on Saturday, with five of its six current MEPs standing for re-election. The party’s leader at a European level will remain Miloslav Ransdorf, it was decided by secret vote. The party’s number two candidate will continue to be Vladimír Remek, the first Czechoslovak astronaut. The only Communist MEP not to stand for re-election is Daniel Strož, whose place on the list of candidates went to lower house deputy Kateřina Konečná. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Mr Ransdorf said that the Communists were planning a surprise as part of their upcoming election campaign. He also said the party was seeking to consolidate its surprise success in the 2004 elections.
The opposition Social Democrats have said that they will cover the cost of health fees in all regions which vote for them in this autumn’s regional elections. Speaking on the campaign trail on Sunday, party leader Jiří Paroubek said that his party would cover people’s health fees until the Social Democrats could abolish the controversial policy altogether. In the same speech, Mr Paroubek stressed that he was still opposed to the idea of privatizing teaching hospitals and public health insurance providers.
The former leader of the Social Democrats, Miloš Zeman, has been released from hospital following kidney surgery, it was announced on Sunday. The former PM was supposed to stay in hospital for the next couple of days following on from Saturday’s operation, but negotiated with staff to be released, reported the Novinky.cz news website. Upon his release, Mr Zeman said he felt ‘well’. The former prime minister has long suffered from kidney problems which hospitalized him on several occasions during his time in government.
The international stamp exhibition Praga 2008, which closed on Sunday, was judged ‘catastrophically successful’ by its organisers. Nearly 45,000 people came to see the exhibition and its showpiece, the rare Blue Mauritius stamp - on loan from the British royal collection. For security reasons, only 200 people could view the priceless stamp an hour, meaning that only around 5,000 visitors got to see the stamp in total. The next such international stamp exhibition will take place in the Czech Republic in ten years’ time.
The Czech Republic has a sixth gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics thanks to archer David Drahonínský, who beat favourite John Cavanagh of Great Britain in the indoor wheelchair archery event. The Czech Republic now has 21 medals in total, and sits 16th overall in the medals table, after eight days of competition.
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